Deciding whether or not to bring your children to a funeral is a tough call on the best of days. When thinking about this dilemma you might consider the following questions to help you know whether or not your child is ready for a funeral. Is your child of an age where he or she regularly sits quietly? Or does he or she still need constant attention, or does he or she regularly act out? Has the child expressed a desire to attend the funeral? How are you and your child related to the deceased? How close were you personally to the deceased? And finally how have you held up in the past at other funerals?
Primarily you should consider if this funeral is going to be open or closed casket. Although Funeral Directors generally do a fantastic job of making the deceased appear as if they are in a comfortable deep sleep, this might confuse the child. Children generally are not old enough to have developed filters on their thoughts or speech and some of the things they might say could be unintentionally upsetting if they are viewing the deceased in an open casket. Children will often say things like ‘Why won’t daddy wake up?’ or something similar. These types of statements might make some of the attendees smile because of the lack of intent and the purity of the thought, other people might become inconsolably upset hearing these types of innocent statements. If there will be an open casket you might choose to leave your child in an adjoining room where the body is not present. Most funeral homes will provide a room completely separate from the viewing area where the family can assign one or two adults or older cousins from their group to supervise the children. If this type of room is not available you might consider sitting in the refreshment area with the children who are not of a reasonable age for viewing the departed.
If your child has a history of poor behavior or acting out, you might need to prepare them well in advance by telling them what your expectations will be of them while at the funeral; or by letting them know what the consequences will be if they do not behave appropriately. If you anticipate that your child might act out, but you choose to bring them along anyway, you should be prepared with a backup plan. Possibly call a friend ahead of time and request that they remain available to pick up the child from the funeral home if they either become uncontrollably upset, or if they are simply acting inappropriately. Letting your child know that this back up plan is available will often be enough to keep them under control.
When you told your child about the passing of their loved one, did they outwardly express a desire to attend the funeral? Are they old enough to know without you telling them, that there will be a gathering for their loved one? These questions will tell you a lot about the current state of your child’s mind and their ability to process death and related events. Children, contrary to popular believe, do have a concept of death. They often do not realize that death or dying means that someone or something is never coming back, but they do see death, all around them. Often a child’s first experience with death will be a pet passing away, or hearing about it on television, or listening to parents remembering old friends and family members. Depending on your child’s age and their level of understanding regarding the living and dying process, it could be detrimental to their healing process to be taken to a funeral. On the other hand if your child is of age to understand what death means it could be equally detrimental to their healing process to stop them from attending. If your child is of an age that you think is appropriate you might want to ask them certain questions like these; do you know what grown ups do when people that they know pass away? Then try explaining to them the process of a funeral and what they might see at the funeral. Then follow up with asking your child if he or she would be interested in attending. This tactic is most affective with children experiencing death for the first time between the ages of eight and 12 years. If this is your child’s first funeral and they fall in this age group, you might consider making the same backup plan as you might for a young child acting out. Although all children need to learn to grieve and manage their feelings, the first funeral can sometimes be traumatic and your child might want to leave, or you might choose to send them home partway through. Children of this age group can also benefit from the refreshment room. Often times they are simply afraid of the physical presence of their deceased loved one. In this case removing them from the room is often enough to help them get through the moment.
If the deceased is immediately related (father, mother, brother, sister, grandparent) to the child it is almost always appropriate to bring the child.
You might consider what you expect your own reaction to be once you are at the funeral. If the deceased is a close relative or a close friend you might find yourself extremely upset. If you anticipate being very upset and possibly in need of consoling, how will your child react? Will you be in the frame of mind to be relied upon to console your child if he or she becomes upset or scared? These types of situations can escalate into a very bad feeling for all the attendees of the funeral. I think we have all seen it happen when a parent is side tracked and not paying full attention to their child, and the child begins acting out, or becomes upset and other adults in the area become that child’s temporary guardian. This is something that is normally fully accepted in situations where the deceased is your parent, or your sibling, but if the deceased is a distant relative or something similar you might find some discomfort amongst the other guests if your child is left unattended because you are in a position where you are unable to assist him or her. The last thing anyone wants is to be responsible for a child that is not theirs while they are trying to grieve. In this case you might consider leaving your child with a baby sitter while you attend the funeral.
In cases where the child in question is an infant they are almost always welcome at funerals. If the infant is mild mannered (not colic) or is fully dependant on you for something such as nursing, most people do not mind the child being in attendance regardless of the relation to the deceased.
If you are having difficulty finding child care for your children when attending a funeral you might consider asking the married in siblings or cousins. Often families will elect a distant relative to supervise the children of the immediate family members while they attend the funeral. Not all families do this but it is fairly common practice. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it would be to try to find child care in the middle of a family emergency such as a parent passing away. Families usually pull together at this point to make sure that the needs of the whole family are met, including the needs of related children.